Rancho Santa Fe photographer creates illusion of painting in new photography exhibit

French Polynesian seascapes come to life in Bill Rastetter’s newest art exhibit titled: Equatorial Sea: Water and Light, A Study of Color. The unique photographs of the sea and the sky after sunset were taken on the equator, on a small atoll named Tetiaroa. Rastetter’s artwork is currently on display until April 30 at The Ida and Cecil Green Faculty Club at UCSD.

“I like to think of what I do as artwork done photographically,” said the self-taught artist and longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident. “I focus on different techniques for making photography look like painting.”

He and his wife, Marisa, visited Tetiaroa for a week in December 2015. Purchased by Marlon Brando in the mid-1960s, the private island is 30 miles northeast of Tahiti and can be circumnavigated on foot in less than an hour.

Rastetter found it to be a great location to photograph the ocean after sunset. “The softness of the images comes from long exposures as water and clouds continue to move during the exposure,” explained Rastetter. “The only really sharp thing in the images is the horizon line.”

He said the result is an image where the ocean is flat and reflective of a sky that is very soft as if it had been painted, rather than photographed.

Instead of using a conventional camera, Rastetter chose the Hasselblad H5D-50c, which allowed him to achieve exposures up to 12 minutes. The 18 images in the exhibit, with the exception of one, were all taken after sunset. They are arranged in groups based on the colors that were visible those particular evenings and range in size from 21x28 inches to 42x56 inches.

“Something magical happens when you take one of these photographs and make them very, very large,” he said. “The real photograph is much more magical than an image on the screen. It has to do with the size and intensity of color.”

Born in Panama in 1948, Rastetter began taking photographs when he was 11 years old. His mother, an oil painter, gave him his first camera — a Kodak box camera. He then used his father’s Kodak Medalist and learned technical aspects of shooting black and white photographs. During his teen years, he recalls building a darkroom in the closet of his family’s garage. When he was 16 years old, he worked part-time for the U.S. Information Agency as a darkroom photographer, producing 8x10-inch black and white publicity photos of Jack and Jackie Kennedy.

After graduating high school in Bethesda, Maryland, Rastetter earned an S.B. degree in chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University. He moved to Rancho Santa Fe in 1987. When he isn’t traveling and taking photographs, he funds and builds biotechnology companies as well as sits on various boards.

About a decade ago, Rastetter began exhibiting his artwork in San Diego. “I think an artist has to find his or her niche that differentiates his or her work,” he said. “The ability to get into sophisticated galleries and to have clientele look, appreciate and occasionally buy your work is an affirmation of sorts that you’ve achieved a certain standard of differentiation if not excellence that makes your work interesting to people.”

Over the years, he has noticed a change in technology that has affected his work. Where he used to spend an entire day in his darkroom developing black and white photographs, he now finds that the images can be created digitally in a matter of hours. “There is a huge difference in productivity,” said Rastetter. Modern digital printing techniques also allow him to produce very large photographs, which can be used for spaces such as hallways and offices.

His prior exhibits have been held at the Madison Gallery and Joseph Bellow Gallery, both located in La Jolla. He said the galleries are quite different in their focus; whereas Madison Gallery mainly showcases artwork, Joseph Bellow features fine art photography.

Rastetter said he often works at the boundary of photography and painting and sets out to make his photographs look like paintings. “There are a variety of ways to accomplish that,” he said.

His Graffiti Mash-Up series, available through the Madison Gallery, was created in 2014. Rastetter photographed artwork by street artists in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and layered two different pieces on top of one another to create a unique look and new piece of art.

The Joseph Bellow Gallery represents Rastetter’s seascapes, including the older series, Seascapes 2008-2011. Here, too, the images were taken with the camera shutter open for minutes at a time. “The result is to smooth out ocean waves to ‘pacific’ planarity and to render the sky as if it were a watercolor painting,” he explained.

One of Rastetter’s favorite photographers — Ansel Adams — once said, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

Rastetter said he hopes to capture a small piece of space and time in every photograph he takes. “This might be with perspective, time of day and lighting, exposure, darkroom and printing techniques, or digital combinations of images,” said Rastetter. “I shoot what I shoot to give the viewer an otherwise unseen perspective on common subjects.”

For more information about his artwork and upcoming exhibits, visit www.billrastetter.com.

For exhibit information, contact The Ida and Cecil Green Faculty Club at UCSD: (858) 534-0876.

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